Ana­to­lians in the Klein Ka­roo

Road Trip - - CONTENTS - Story & Im­ages © Jim Free­man

If you un­der­take reg­u­lar road trips, you will dis­cover the world is in­deed a small place. It was there­fore with some amuse­ment that I pulled the Nis­san Pa­trol off the un­du­lat­ing road be­tween Union­dale and Avon­tuur onto the Hoog­st­edrift farm. There had been lit­tle rain in the past months and the veld, rav­aged by fire last year, was be­ing whipped up by a fierce, cold wind into a mael­strom of dust.

Ever since I trav­elled to the Na­maqua Na­tional Park in 2016, I had been want­ing to write the story of the Ana­to­lian Shep­herd Guard­ing Dog pro­ject, run by San­parks in con­junc­tion with the En­dan­gered Wildlife Trust. Run­ning out of petrol in the mid­dle of nowhere had pre­cluded a visit … How­ever, be­ing handed the keys to the mas­sive Nis­san Pa­trol 5.6-litre V8 seemed the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to pick up the thread again.

The pro­ject was run by Elanza van Lente, who told me the pro­ject had been moved to the Klein Ka­roo, “Near Union­dale,” she said quite vaguely. I was un­able to reach her to pin­point the lo­ca­tion, so I got hold of Klaas Havenga who works for San­parks in the Knysna Forest, and dou­bles as brother-in-law to my late best friend, Dave Hodgson.

Af­ter mak­ing some en­quiries, he came back with the news that the pro­ject was be­ing run on the farm owned by Nico Ger­ber and that it was on the same back road upon which Dave had farmed. I later learned that Nico, who I had met a cou­ple of times, was farm­ing about 3000 ha that com­prised three parcels of land; in­clud­ing one Dave had owned.

The Ana­to­lians

It sad­dens me that peo­ple and wild an­i­mals seem un­able to peace­fully co-ex­ist out­side the bound­aries of des­ig­nated con­ser­va­tion ar­eas, some­thing I re­alised when liv­ing in Namibia some 35 years ago.

Hardly a year goes by with­out some hor­rific tale of crit­i­cally en­dan­gered pop­u­la­tions of preda­tors be­ing slaugh­tered – by gun, gin trap, or poi­son – at the hand of farm­ers tired of them prey­ing on their live­stock. In one sense you can un­der­stand the frus­tra­tions of the farm­ers. But the preda­tors are only do­ing what preda­tors do nat­u­rally. And they got there first.

That is where the Ana­to­lians come in: this hardy Euro­pean breed is fear­less, and bond with the flocks and herds they pro­tect … and will pay with their lives if need be.

Th­ese farms of Nico lie be­tween two rugged moun­tain ranges, teem­ing with preda­tors. “I lost six to seven sheep to leop­ards on quite a few oc­ca­sions – they are op­por­tunis­tic killers and will kill live­stock al­most for the fun of it – and, on av­er­age, jackals and cara­cals would kill be­tween 65 and 80 lambs each sea­son. Since I em­ployed the Ana­to­lians last year, I have lost a sin­gle lamb. Other farm­ers here in the Langk­loof re­port the same kind of re­sults.”

“The Ana­to­lians are work­ing dogs”, he stressed, “and they work around the clock. They are fed twice a day and checked morn­ing and night for in­juries and par­a­sites. They do not come into the farm­house at night but spend the night in the kraal with the live­stock, be­cause that is when the farm an­i­mals are at their most vul­ner­a­ble.

“For all that, they demon­strate con­sid­er­able af­fec­tion for their own­ers. They are able to trans­fer their loy­alty

from one flock or herd of farm an­i­mals to an­other; even be­tween sheep, goats, and cat­tle. Their pro­tec­tive be­hav­iour is also ap­par­ently deeply im­printed”, said Elanza, who paid the farm an un­ex­pected visit.

Fia and Fina

We took the lux­u­ri­ous Pa­trol to one camp in the moun­tains, where Elanza in­tro­duced me to Fia and Fina. The big and pow­er­ful ve­hi­cle, un­sur­pris­ingly, made mince­meat of the rocky ter­rain with­out even hav­ing to en­gage four-wheel drive.

“Fina was abused in the Na­maqua­land. She is blind in one eye and was cooped up in a sin­gle camp for seven years,” she said. “Although we never had any be­hav­ioral prob­lems with her in Na­maqua­land, we re­ally did not think she would again bond with a flock or hu­mans.” The fears she and Nico had, were un­founded. Fina sat peace­ably watch­ing her flock (which in­cludes a rather ram­bunc­tious ram) be­fore hap­pily ac­cept­ing hugs from Elanza and my fel­low Pa­trol-posse, Yolande and Me­lany. She then slipped through the fence into the ad­join­ing camp to join Fia who looked on tol­er­antly while “on duty,” as­sim­i­lat­ing seam­lessly with the other group of an­i­mals.

Nico em­ployed his first Ana­to­lian a year ago and only re­cently went into part­ner­ship with Elanza. “Buy­ing an Ana­to­lian is not a cheap propo­si­tion”, he said, “any­thing from R15,000 to R30,000, depend­ing on the level of train­ing, but if you are los­ing a bunch of ewes and lambs to preda­tors each year, you quickly re­alise it is a wise in­vest­ment.”

Night­mare jour­ney

The clouds came in and the whip­ping wind got colder and grit­tier. We de­cided to head back to our base in Sedge­field, tak­ing the scenic Prince Al­fred Pass. It is one of the most beau­ti­ful roads in South Africa but the drive is chal­leng­ing and quite fright­en­ing to pas­sen­gers. The nar­row and twisty road with steep drops is not one to travel in the dark. The jour­ney from Cape Town up the Gar­den Route and then to Union­dale took its toll on the thirsty Pa­trol (140 litres and R1,000 gets you only half a tank and a range of some 600 kilo­me­tres, driv­ing at a rel­a­tively con­ser­va­tive speed). About 50 kilo­me­tres from Knysna I started look­ing at the fuel gauge with con­cern. And then the night­mare be­gan.

There were some protests on the N2 and some id­iot cop ad­vised the driver of a

huge truck to take the moun­tain road. Sure enough, the truck jack-knifed and both its trail­ers went down the moun­tain­side, leav­ing the horse on its side on the road. There was no way to get past. A re­cov­ery truck op­er­a­tor told us we would be stuck there for at least an­other eight hours … and, we did not have enough fuel to get back to Union­dale. By now it was bit­terly cold. Af­ter hours of fruit­less ma­noeu­vring, the re­cov­ery truck backed away and we could just make it around the scene of the ac­ci­dent. It was scary, as the side of the big Pa­trol was hang­ing over the edge of a cliff, and all I could do was to trust the of­fi­cial di­rect­ing me past the scene.

Some­times, you need a lit­tle faith. Some­times you need a lot. In your dogs, in your fel­low hu­mans and in your ve­hi­cle.

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